The Human: real and lived performances of Richard Jenkins
NEW YORK (AP) – For a long time, it bothered Richard Jenkins that he didn’t look or come across like the movie stars he grew up with. How could he, the son of a dentist from DeKalb, Illinois, compete in the same company as Lawrence Olivier, Marlon Brando and Spencer Tracy?
âIt’s really hard to believe that you are enough. I mean, for me it was terrible, âJenkins says. âSometimes I still don’t. But you always come back to, “There you are, mate. That’s all you got. If that’s not enough, okay. But that’s all you got.
It is appropriate that in the center of a film entitled “Humans” is Jenkins, an extraordinary man who has made a career of performing close to the bone and lived. The film, directed by Stephen Karam from his Tony award-winning play, is a poignant ensemble piece led by a typically humble yet tour de force performance by 74-year-old Jenkins.
He plays Erik Blake, who, along with his wife Deidre (Jayne Houdyshell) and elderly mother Momo (June Squibb), arrived from Scranton, Pa., To their daughter’s apartment in Chinatown for Thanksgiving dinner. Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend, Richard (Steven Yeun), have just moved into an aging duplex in the basement with streaked widows that overlook an air shaft. Inside the dilapidated apartment, the lights flicker and the neighboring boiler rumbles. Erik looks at the maze of pipes and the caulking holes.
Their conversation, with her sister Aimee (Amy Schumer), reveals characters with their own shattering. âThe Humans,â which hit theaters on Wednesday 24 and also airs on Showtime, pulsates with existential terror of a family hanging on. Helplessness and guilt especially hang over Erik, a longtime school guard who struggles to patch up all of the Blakes’ leaks.
You read something and you say to yourself, âDo I have something to offer? Sometimes you say, ‘No, not really. It’s someone else, âJenkins said in a recent interview at a Central Park South hotel. âBut this oneâ¦ I understood his answer to things. When I looked at him, I thought, ‘My God, that’s pretty me.'”
Karam makes his directorial debut with a one-act adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize finalist. For the play, which debuted on Broadway in 2016, Karam drew heavily on his own Scranton family to create an unsettling Chekhovian drama laden with metaphors. Living in pre-war apartments and walking under painted steel beams in subway stations that seemed to him to be fossils, Karam felt in his own New York existence the haunting echoes of the past.
âYou feel the story. You feel that lives are being lived, âsays Karam.
For the film, Karam built an incredibly accurate replica of an apartment he lived in, right down to the graffiti on the elevator. By bringing “The Humans” from stage to screen, Karam enlarges and intensifies the drama.
âSpace is degrading, but in some ways I think space is also remarkably resilient – like human bodies and human beings,â Karam said. âThis family, despite all these struggles and conflicts and the breakdown of different aspects of their lives – losing their girlfriends or their health or a mother – is holding on. I’m interested in how people keep bringing in a gallon of paint.
Jenkins has lived in Providence, Rhode Island, with his wife, Sharon, for 52 years. They expected to stay a few years, but Jenkins was a member of the Trinity Repertory Company for 14 years. ” I lived there. I started making films. I stayed, âJenkins says. They had two children. Jenkins would take the train to New York for auditions. He didn’t start to land roles in film and television until he was 35. He was 60 when he got his first leading role in a film, “The Visitor” by Tom McCarthy (one of two Oscar nominations for Jenkins, the other for Guillermo del “The Shape of Water” of Toro).
“I always say in this profession you’re going to get your ass kicked either when you’re young or when you’re old,” Jenkins says with a smile. âBetter to end it. “
One piece of advice changed everything in him. Interim Coach Harold Guskin, author of How To Stop Acting, told Jenkins, âStop trying to hide who you are. “
âI was unhappy with myself as an actor forever, with the way I did it. I thought I had to either change and understand or do something else,â Jenkins says. âIt bothered me. and I thought if that bothered me, then the audience must be really thrilled. So that’s what I’ve tried to do for the last 20, 25 years. Sometimes it’s more successful than others. Sometimes I see myself and I’m like, ‘Why is someone hiring me?’ So sometimes I say, ‘It’s okay.’ “
For Jenkins, it doesn’t matter if a part has an accent, a limp, a murderous streak – any performance involves being comfortable in your own skin, being yourself.
âI think it’s a mistake that you deny this and block it,â Jenkins says. âFor me, it just doesn’t work. It came later in life for me.
It helped make Jenkins one of the most vulnerable and human of the cast – someone you feel like you know because, in a way, you know him. Jenkins is not the father of John C. Reilly in “Step Brothers”, or the con artist patriarch of “Kajillionaire”, or the gay federal agent who unwittingly takes acid and asks “Is this a musical table? ” in “Flirting With Disaster”. But all of these parts reflect some of Jenkins’ good nature.
On “The Humans,” Karam expected Jenkins to have the proud certainty of a veteran performer to find him curious, respectful and generous.
âThe understanding of this family was so precise that I almost had to shut up and listen to Richard talk about his children and his life and his understanding of family,â says Karam. “This, to me, was a bit magical.”
In the mid-1970s, Jenkins was perhaps more in demand than ever. He finds Del Toro in the black “Nightmare Alley”, released in December. He will play Jeffrey Dahmer’s father in an upcoming Ryan Murphy’s miniseries.
On set, Jenkins has grown used to being the oldest person, he says, with the recent happy exception of 92-year-old Squibb. It doesn’t bother him. He loves young people, he says.
âWhat happens is the older you get, the more you appreciate it. You look back on your life. I do. I live in the past,â Jenkins says. âAnd you look back and you say, ‘ Oh my God. “People who say luck has nothing to do with that, they’re full of (swear words). It’s huge. If I hadn’t done that. If I hadn’t Did that. If I hadn’t been in this room. If I didn’t do this room. It’s just one after another. I’m a lucky man. That’s what I am. “
Follow AP screenwriter Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP